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Thompson: The Same School with the Same Socio-Economic Challenges

Facts After Newt Gingrich misstated the facts regarding Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, the media could have checked into the true story of the schools’ outstanding accomplishments without distorting the  challenges faced by the toughest neighborhood schools.

So it was doubly dismaying when Secretary Duncan was even more inaccurate in claiming that Mastery kept "the same students," and he was not challenged by the press. Duncan made a similar misstatement in Oklahoma City, but I had hoped he was just being overly effusive in praising the wonderful KIPP students who were accompanying him.

I do not understand how the first 123 students of Moon KIPP Academy could be mistaken for being "the same (501) students" who were "in the same building" the year before the neighborhood school was closed. Six years later and long after the demand for KIPP’s rigor has topped out, 215 KIPP students, with 11% on IEPs, get an excellent education - even though their turnover rate is 52%. This compares with the old school’s pattern of a 90 to 100% poverty rate with 24 to 33% of students on IEPs.

The old Moon made the Harper’s Index after a lunch riot where 80% of  the 6th grade students were suspended. Long before they attended that troubled school, many of my neighbors would pick flowers at our house, visit the fish pond, and go sailing with us. One did not ask for a reward when returning our lost dog, but he asked me to walk him home through rival gang turf. I comforted my young friends after they witnessed a drive-by murder of a classmate and we dealt with several 2:00 am family crises.

The students who later attended Moon would ride on my back as I swam the pool until I was too exhausted to climb out of the water without the ladder. When I visited the crack houses where some lived, I negotiated with their guard dogs. Some chastised me for driving off a white junkie, and they did so in a way that will always remind me of the kids’ generosity of spirit. The soundtrack for those years was Spike Lee's "Do it a Cappella" and their favorite song on it was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." I have never doubted those kids' abilities to succeed in a system that celebrated their full humanity.

A lot of schools claim to be "an alternative school to the alternative schools," but Moon really was. A lot of schools claim that the sheriff brings kids in handcuffs, unlocks them, and wishes the teachers luck as they drop troubled kids at the school but, frankly, I have never seen it. That reality wasn’t uncommon at Moon.

Representing the union and a bipartisan committee of community leaders in a listening tour of all of our schools, I had plenty of conversations with Moon's principal, his administrators, teachers, parents and, of course, my young buddies who attended the school. I don’t recall anyone claiming that they were allowed to enforce discipline in a consistent manner. In fact, I thought the administrators were as bold as possible in asserting that neighborhood middle schools aren’t allowed to assess discipline. I do recall a wonderful assistant principal who suggested that we line up all adults and line up all students, count off one, two, three, four, and divide the school into four small schools and let each school experiment with their own approaches. Now that would be a way of really addressing "the same socio-economic challenges."

By the way, my senior who was one of the 136 suspended 6th graders, claims he was innocent.

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